Winners and Losers of the Recent Moves Rebalance: Winter 2019


An albeit unexpected, but much needed move and combat rebalance was announced by our overlords at Niantic a few days ago. The update is officially live and most of the changes have been implemented, so let’s take a second look at the news.

The key highlights of this combat rebalance include:

  1. An update to how Charge Move Priority (CMP) is determined in Trainer Battles.
  2. An update to buffing and de-buffing move mechanics in Trainer Battles wherein the buffed and de-buff now reset upon switching out the particular Pokémon that has undergone said buff or de-buff.
  3. Updates to a few existing attacks in Pokémon GO.
  4. The addition of some new moves, and an update to move-pools of several Pokémon.
  5. The return of certain Legacy moves!

In this article we will mostly cover Points 3, 4, and 5 and go over the winners and losers from a PvP and PvE perspective as a result of the newly added moves and newly acquired learn-sets, as well as, the nerfs and buffs to existing moves.

Updates to existing moves

Night Slash

The energy cost to fire off a Night Slash has been reduced in Trainer Battles and now requires only 35 energy to be activated. Furthermore, it now has a 12.5% chance to buff the user’s attack by 2 stages. The base damage has not been changed and is still at 50, thus giving Night Slash an overall buff.

Although it is mostly used as a coverage move in PvP due to not many Dark Types actually learning it, several Pokémon will benefit from the early damage window of Night Slash and the potential +2 attack buff.

The Winners of the Night Slash buff include:

Zangoose Scyther Scizor Gligar Gliscor Primeape Crawdaunt

Icy Wind

Icy Wind received a slight buff in PvP as well, as it now guarantees to decrease the opposing Pokémon’s attack stat by 1 stage. The energy cost and base damage have not been tinkered with and remain at 60 base power with a 45 energy cost.

The Winners of the Icy Wind buff are:

Kyurem Cloyster Drifblim Prinplup

Hydro Cannon

The first nerf on this list, Hydro Cannon’s base damage was reduced from 90 to 80 in PvP only. Out of the 3 Starter Community Day exclusive moves, Hydro Cannon was always the strongest (and continues to be in PvE), however with its base power now being slightly nerfed in PvP, it makes the Water type starters a little less threatening.

The most notable Losers of the Hydro Cannon nerf are:

Blastoise Swampert

Frustration and Return

Niantic decided to nerf Frustration and Return in a pretty major way in PvP only, and the once low energy costing, fast charge moves now require a significant 70 energy to pull off, essentially making Return a Hyper Beam clone. One can say this nerf has only caused “frustration” among the PvP community, and the “return” on investment into Shadow/Purified Pokémon is now minuscule.

The major Losers of this Frustration/Return nerf include:

Sandslash Banette Gloom Venomoth Dragonair

Mud Slap

Receiving an increase in base damage in both PvP and PvE, Mud Slap now does 18 damage in Raids and Gym Battles, and 11 damage in PvP. Several Pokémon have benefited from this slight buff.

The major Winners of the Mud Slap buff include:

Excadrill Rhyperior Golurk Donphan Gastrodon

Sand Tomb

A move that you probably didn’t know even existed, Sand Tomb until now was only available to a very select few NFE (Not fully evolved) Pokémon. However with the latest move shake-up, Sand Tomb received a buff in PvP only, and can now be learned by a few strong Pokémon. In PvP, Sand Tomb is a low energy costing (35 energy cost), low damage dealing (25 base power) charge move that is guaranteed to decrease the opposing Pokémon’s attack by 1 stage. In many ways, it is like a de-buffing Power-up Punch.

The Winners of the Sand Tomb buff include:

Forretress Torterra Gliscor Garchomp


The next major buff benefiting several Ground types has come in the form of a base damage increase to Earthquake in both PvE and PvP. Earthquake now does 140 base damage in Raids and Gym Battles, and 120 damage in PvP. This upgrade has now closed the gap between Earth Power/Drill Run and Earthquake users, and has made the latter more viable than before.

The major Winners of the Earthquake buff include:

(PvP & PvE) Groudon (PvP & PvE) Garchomp (PvP & PvE) Swampert (PvE) Rhyperior (PvE) Donphan (PvE) Golem (PvP) Gliscor (PvP) Steelix (PvP) Quagsire (PvP) Meganium


Overheat has been tinkered with in the world of PvP only. Not necessarily a direct buff, but Overheat now charges up faster (55 energy cost) with a slight reduction in base power (130 base damage). The primary caveat however, is that upon using Overheat, the user’s attack will be reduced by 2 stages. This benefits several PvP Pokémon that can now charge up to Overheat much faster, do enormous damage, and then swap out to negate the attack debuff.

The Winners as a result of the Overheat buff include:

Charizard Typhlosion Blaziken Mew Torkoal

Draco Meteor

Receiving a similar treatment to Overheat, Draco Meteor too now charges up slightly faster in PvP only (65 energy cost), however the base damage has remained the same at 150. Just like Overheat, DM also reduces the user’s attack by 2 stages after it is used.

Winners of the Draco Meteor adjustment are:

Dialga Dragonite

Psycho Boost

Following the trend of Overheat and Draco Meteor, Psycho Boost is 3rd move in PvP only to receive similar treatment wherein it charges up slightly faster (35 energy cost) however drops the user’s attack by 2 stages upon being used. However, unlike the above 2 moves, Psycho Boost isn’t a hard-hitting move to begin with, therefore this change has made Deoxys’ signature move slightly less desirable and is overall a nerf to its performance.

As such, the Loser of the Psycho Boost nerf, and the only Pokémon who can learn this is move is:

Deoxys (Defense)

Close Combat

Similar to the 3 moves above, Close Combat now charges up much quicker (45 energy cost) doing a solid base 100 damage in PvP only. The drawback however is that, it now reduces the user’s defense stat by 2 stages upon being used.

However, this adjustment can be considered an overall buff to the move, and the Winners as a result of this buff are:

Pinsir Gallade Infernape Lucario Heracross Primeape Hitmontop

New Moves

Octazooka (PvP)

A unique Water type move learned only by the Remoraid and Horsea family in the main series games, Octazooka now makes a splash in Pokémon GO for the first time. Requiring 50 energy to pull off, and doing only 50 base damage doesn’t sound too impressive, however Octazooka’s biggest advantage is that it has a 50% chance to reduce the opponent’s attack by 2 stages upon being used!

While Octillery doesn’t quite have the stats to make it in PvP, the biggest Winner as a result of Octazooka being added to the game is:


Mirror Shot (PvP)

This new Steel type move is a much welcomed addition to the roster of Steel type charged moves currently available in Pokémon GO. It does a modest base damage of 35, however only requires 35 energy to be fully charged up. The highlight however, is that Mirror Shot has a 30% chance to reduce the opponent’s defense by 1 stage upon being used!

The biggest Winners to the addition of Mirror Shot are:

Forretress Magnezone Ferrothorn

Fell Stinger (PvP)

Power-up Punch’s Bug type cousin has arrived in Pokémon GO. Fell Stinger requiring 35 energy and doing a base damage of 20, guarantees to increase the user’s attack by 1 stage every time it is used.

The Winners as a result of Fell Stinger’s addition are:

Beedrill Vespiquen Drapion Qwilfish

Aura Sphere (PvE)

The first PvE viable move on this list arrives in the form of Lucario’s signature move from the main series games, Aura Sphere. Although learned by several other Pokémon in the main series games, Aura Sphere is currently only learned by Lucario in Pokémon GO. Officially the best charge move in the game, the addition of Aura Sphere has caused Lucario to soar to the top of the Fighting type DPS charts, now making it the Number 1 Fighting Type in Pokémon GO.

As such, the one and only winner to this addition is:


Superpower (PvP)

Probably the most lackluster of all the new moves added, the Fighting type move, Superpower, is a coverage move at best. In PvE, Dynamic Punch is the superior of the two. Slightly better in PvP, it does a base damage of 85, requiring a relatively cheap 40 energy to pull off. However, it decreases the user’s attack and defense by 1 stage upon being used. Not many fighting types learn Superpower (Hariyama being the only one), as such, it is a decent coverage move for some Pokémon.

The biggest Winners are:

Melmetal Pinsir Hariyama

Addition to existing move-pools:

  1. Feraligatr now learns Ice Fang. Unfortunately this isn’t a significant addition to Feraligatr’s move-pool as it already learned the Ice type charge move Ice Beam that gave it coverage against Grass types.
  2. Porygon 2 and Porygon-Z now learn the Normal type fast move Lock On. This is a welcome addition to Porygon 2 and Z’s move-pool. As mentioned by Niantic themselves, Lock On now allows Porygon 2 and Z to access their high energy requiring charge moves much faster. If only Niantic hadn’t nerfed Return, the combination of Lock On and Return would have made Porygon 2 and Z extremely spammy in PvP.
  3. Celebi now learns Seed Bomb. Prior to this, Celebi did not have a single Grass type move in its arsenal in Pokémon GO, thus the addition of Seed Bomb to its move-pool is a welcome buff.
  4. Shiftry now learns Snarl. This comes as a buff to Shiftry in the world of PvP. Snarl generates energy very quickly is superior to Feint Attack as a Dark type fast move. Shiftry can now charge up to a Leaf Blade after using Snarl thrice!
  5. Kyogre now learns the Water type charge move Surf. A very welcome buff to the Sea Basin Pokémon’s move-pool in PvP and PvE, Surf Kyogre now outshines Hydro Pump Kyogre. Although Kingler is still the Water type DPS king, the addition of Surf to Kyogre’s move-pool bridges the gap between the two ever so slightly.
  6. Lickilicky now learns the Ghost type charge move Shadow Ball. Still not viable in PvE or PvP.
  7. Tangrowth now learns Power Whip. A major buff for Tangrowth, it has finally received a worthy Grass type charge move. Power Whip now catapults Tangrowth to the level of Frenzy Plant Venusaur, if not better!
  8. Heatran now learns Flamethrower. Overall an improvement for Heatran as Flamethrower is a better Fire type charge move than Fire Blast, however it is still lacking in the DPS department as there are several Blast Burn and Overheat users running around.
  9. Stoutland now learns Ice Fang. A decent coverage move, but does nothing to make Stoutland more viable in PvP or PvE.

Return of several Legacy moves!

  1. Cloyster now re-learns Icy Wind – Slight buff in PvP due to the newly improved Icy Wind.
  2. Arcanine re-learns Flamethrower – Benefits Arcanine in PvP and PvE.
  3. Poliwrath re-learns Mud Shot – Huge buff for Poliwrath in PvP and Team GO Rocket Battles, especially against the Admins and Giovanni.
  4. Machamp re-learns Cross Chop. Strictly a PvP buff as Dynamic Punch is a better charge move in PvE. However, in PvP, Cross Chop is a high damage dealing, fast charging move that has caused to Machamp to jump up the rankings in all 3 leagues.
  5. Golem re-learns Ancient Power. Minor buff for Golem in PvP and Team GO Rocket Battles.
  6. Gengar re-learns Shadow Claw. This is a big one, significant buff for Gengar in PvP and PvE. In PvE, 9 times out of 10 Lick is generally preferred over Shadow Claw, however Lick is a Legacy move and was only available for a single day. Newer players who weren’t playing at the time now have a chance to obtain the all mighty Shadow Claw Gengar. In PvP, Shadow Claw is far superior compared to Lick and Sucker Punch.
  7. Exeggutor re-learns Confusion. Another major buff in PvP and PvE, especially coupled with the recent buff that the Psychic charge move received, Kantonian Exeggutor has regained some of its glory from the early days of Pokémon GO.
  8. Pinsir re-learns Fury Cutter. Fury Cutter is a better fast move than Bug Bite in PvP (Bug Bite is better for PvE), however this addition doesn’t do much in terms of increasing Pinsir’s viability in any of 3 leagues.
  9. Gyarados re-learns Dragon Breath and Twister. Slight buff for Gyarados in PvP, especially in the Ultra and Master leagues where Giratina is king. However it is to be noted that Crunch is the preferred charge move over Twister.
  10. Snorlax re-learns Body Slam. For all the Gold Gym hunters and trainers who enjoy defending gyms and the gym meta in general, a most welcome buff to Snorlax who now permanently re-learns Body Slam.
  11. Dragonite re-learns Dragon Breath and Dragon Claw. The ultimate legacy Dragonite has returned, a huge buff for it in the Gym attack/defense meta, as well as, in PvP. For Raid Battles, Dragon Tail/Outrage is still the best combo.


To conclude, this mega, winter 2019 combat rebalance has been one of the significant game rebalances in recent months and has caused widespread meta shake-ups in PvP and PvE. It seems like this update came just in time for the official GO Battle League that is set to launch in early 2020 and Niantic is hoping to take the competitive aspect in Pokémon GO to the next level!
Which change(s) were you most happy about? What changes would you like to see in the future?

Author & tags

Level 40 Pokemon GO Trainer representing Team Instinct! My current goals in the game are to help and assist newer trainers, and to grow and garner a strong local community in my town. University Student pursuing a Masters in Environmental Policy and Planning with a focus in Renewable Energy.

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